What if Food Changed Mid-Meal?

By Grant Achatz

Photo by Lara Kastner


What if a course could change right before your eyes, and your palate, while you were eating it? The interjection of a temperature, texture, aroma, or ingredient would morph the course into two distinctly different ones. With this idea we explore how we can drastically change the identity of a course during mid-consumption.

At first thought this seems like an easy concept, and even one that is already common in the world of restaurants. Some traditional practices hint at it. While eating shabu shabu, you apply heat to various proteins right before consumption, changing them from raw to cooked. The tableside saucing and garnishing of a soufflé adds a flavor component to the dessert, and even the shaving of truffles over pasta produces a changing of the dish after it has left the kitchen. But with all of these examples the course is altered before the guest takes their first bite. Therefore they don't quite exemplify what we are shooting for. I want to create a dish that can be eaten as it is originally presented to the guest, and then at a calculated moment, roughly half way into it, interject a temperature, texture, aroma, or ingredient that essentially creates a new dish entirely.

As we started to explore the idea of the Jekyll and Hyde concept it became apparent that it would require additions dealing in areas of extreme to successfully transform the food enough, and change the eating experience of the dish dramatically to meet our goal.

In a moment, everything has changed, even the utensil required to eat moves from fork to spoon.

The first way we approached this was extreme temperature additions. Obviously as cooks we change the properties of food on a daily basis in the kitchen by applying heat to various foodstuffs. That is what cooking is all about...and we are cooks. This is no doubt why we looked to this familiar direction first.

We have played with cooking at the table before. By placing food on hot river stones or custom made service ware designed to be both a cooking surface and a plate, we were able to bring the elements of the preparation typically isolated to the kitchen (smells, sounds, and participation) to the dining room. But the food arrived basically in its final state and the eating experience was one-dimensional.

But imagine a salad-like composition of raw vegetables with supporting garnishes including starch based crunchy components that act as croutons, encapsulated herb juices exploding with vinaigrette freshness, and pudding-like condiments of liquefied cheese being transformed by the application of a rich, extremely hot, dairy-based broth, being poured over the course at the midway point of consumption. The former light, crunchy, and cold characteristics of the salad turn into a rich, hot soup. In a moment, everything has changed, even the utensil required to eat moves from fork to spoon.

The crouton elements turning into dumpling like textures while they take on liquid, the vegetables yield from the tableside cooking process, and the spherified herb juices become floating raviolis of much needed brightness in the rich, chowder-like soup.

Could we apply dry heat sources and get a similar effect?

What about reversing the order and adding liquid nitrogen, turning a hot soup into a sorbet or ice cream?

The thought of this mid-consumption transformation was exciting to me, so I started to think of other themes beyond the obvious addition of temperature. Could we make a dish taste entirely different by introducing a smell?

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/04/what-if-food-changed-mid-meal/16743/